3. ‘Salem’s Lot

By Stephen King. 1975.

How would Dracula consume a small town? ‘Salem’s Lot.

Dark lord Stephen King crafts an evil house on a hill for Dracula to move into. Cue blood sacrifices, disappearances, strange deaths, and, eventually, “all around them, the bestiality of the night rises on tenebrous wings. The vampire’s time has come.”

Dracula (he’s called Barlow) lurks while his vampire takeover is witnessed at street level. ‘Salem’s Lot (of course) has a main character, nice guy Ben Mears, and a love interest, a mentor, a kid. There are many secondary players, some with crucial roles, including drunks and eccentrics and the town gossip and a bully and some trailer trash whose baby is so God-damned scary and (of course) the sheriff.

The town itself, Jerusalem’s Lot, is the saddest character of all, invaded and killed from inside. Here’s an example of a master writer turning place into more. One sentence:

But by mid-May, the sun rises out of the morning’s haze with authority and potency, and standing on your top step at seven in the morning with your dinner bucket in your hand, you know that the dew will be melted off the grass by eight and that the dust on the back roads will hang depthless and still in the air for five minutes after a car’s passage; and that by one in the afternoon it will be up to ninety-five on the third floor of the mill and the sweat will roll off your arms like oil and stick your shirt to your back in a widening patch and it may as well be July.

You’re there. Yet King’s greatest gift is not word skills. The greatest gifts are characters, especially villains, and ever-escalating stakes, scenes of bravery and pain that get crazier the deeper you go, way past sanity. King tells big, ambitious good-and-evil stories, spiced with real fear – the scariest scenes in ‘Salem’s Lot are not vampire attacks. They’re moments so expertly realized that they feel like memory, like inception, like it’s happening before your eyes. It’s terrifying, but responding to a story is also fun as hell.

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